Kristin Brown develops a Catholic environment in her Grade 4 classroom in Spruce Grove.
November 5, 2012
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
As Blessed John Paul II once said, "Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others."
Many teachers go to work every day with that goal in mind. They are transforming the lives of their students by ensuring they learn Gospel values as well as lessons of good citizenship in the classroom.
Kristin Brown, a teacher at St. Joseph's Elementary School in Spruce Grove, says she tries to create an environment in which Christ is present in the classroom all day throughout all subject areas.
"I teach Grade 4 so I just try to encourage them to be like Jesus. I'm always reminding them of the golden rule 'not to do to others what they wouldn't want done to them' and to treat others how they want to be treated."
Added Brown: "I always question them and they know from being in a Catholic school from kindergarten that when they do something wrong they are not following the way of Jesus."
Brown has a crucifix on the door of her room as well as a prayer corner where she and her pupils gather every morning. There are candles and an intention board where students can write down what they are praying for.
Brown's class of 23 students prays every morning from the Bible before religion class, where they explore the New Testament. They also pray at lunch and at the end of the day.
Recently all Grade 4 students in the Evergreen School Division received their very own Bible. Lay people from Holy Trinity Parish then came to St. Joseph's School and talked to the students about the importance of the Bible.
Brent Kieser, a religion teacher at R.S. Fowler Junior High Catholic School in St. Albert, follows the Canadian bishops' curriculum for his subject but knows his role is to bring his pupils to Christ.
"I tell all my kids that my job is to bring them closer to God and closer to Christ."
At R.S. Fowler 70 per cent of the students are baptized but only 20 per cent are practising Catholics. The rest might be from other Christian backgrounds.
"My job is to bring them the next step closer to Christ and to God," Kieser said in an interview.
He does it by building relationships with his pupils and taking the time to know their stories. He makes a point of attending his students' sport events after school "so they know that we care." Kieser also listens to his pupils when they have a concern.
"I think that relationship with the kids is how we do it," he says.
For many kids, the school is the most profound experience of Church they have. "So we do celebrations and we pray the rosary together," Kieser explains.
"That's not in the curriculum but we learn to pray together and I learn to hear about their triumphs and their anguishes. That's all part of the relationship."
Teachers at R.S. Fowler also get to know the kids who have a troubled family background in order to show empathy and support.
Kieser also teaches art and always has a few extra sketchbooks to give away. If a student is good at drawing, he gives them a sketchbook and encourages them to draw, and then he makes sure he sees their artwork and posts it if he can.
Textbook teaching is important but building relationships with the kids is as important or more important in developing Christ-like students, he says.
"Christ was all about relationships, about the spirit of the law. The spirit of the kids is where we need to focus if we are going to develop them."
Kieser's pupils also do service projects at the school "so that they learn what it means to serve and the importance of sharing with others what we have." Recently they held a car wash and raised $400 for the poor in Guatemala. "Right now we are raising money for Christmas hampers for families in the community."
Social studies teacher Brenda Dew of John Paul II School in Stony Plain says faith is an important part of her life "and that's why I try to instil it in my students."
Dew says she tries to get her students to live their faith through social justice projects.
"Grade 8 students are very self-centred; they are at that age where they only see themselves and so I try to get them to look beyond themselves by getting them involved in the community where they have to practise the Word of God."
Dew's students shovel snow for the elderly, knit scarves for the homeless, collect food for the food bank and go to the Bissell Centre to serve lunch to the needy.
"Throughout the year we study about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we try to live them as well," she said. "Of course, the biggest thing is Christ came down to show us the love of God so we are trying to do the same by helping others."
Dew said when students are out doing something for others, "they feel good about themselves and find they get an inner satisfaction."
Ryan Feehan, vice principal, teacher and chaplain at St. Mark's Junior High School in Edmonton, said the Catholic faith is the foundation upon which everything in his school is built.
"It is the foundation upon which we start every class and it permeates every aspect of our building," he said. "If we do that effectively then we are going to have students that come out of our building that are in tune or in touch with God."
PERMEATES OUR LIVES
Feehan said the Catholic faith is not a secondary issue at St. Mark's, where they teach Gospel values as integral to the learning process.
"This is a topic that permeates all of our lives," he explained. "Religion comes into a lot of our conversations in the classroom and when the student sees that there are staff in our school that live their faith, then they get inspired and join the conversation."
Added Feehan: "Students tend to be very passionate people and if we can be passionate about our faith then we can ignite that passion in them."